Undrafted players making mark on 2012 Patriots

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Undrafted players making mark on 2012 Patriots

FOXBORO-- There are 29 players on the Patriots 53-man roster drafted by the team. Tom Brady is the earliest (2000) and Alfonzo Dennard is the latest, drafted in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

The Patriots went through a bit of a dry spell during the Draft from 2004 to 2008. Just five players remain from those classes none from 2007 (in their defense, they traded three early ones that year).

Since then, they've hit some home runs. Seven draft picks from 2010 should play major roles this season, while last year's rookies like Nate Solder, Ras-I Dowling, and Stevan Ridley look to make a leap.

This year? Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower look like absolute steals based on what we've seen, and rugby sensation Nate Ebner has beaten out a number of safeties that had much more experience than he.

But all that said, it's the Patriots' eye for talent unseen by others -- at all -- that has really helped shape the team into contenders each year.

Get this: Of the active 53-man roster, 17 of those players were undrafted in the NFL. That number doesn't include undrafted special-teamer turned linebacker Dane Fletcher, who is now on season-ending IR.

That's nearly a third of this season's active roster filled with players passed up by every single team time after time . . . after time. No, the Patriots didn't sign them all out of college, but they saw enough out of some early on in their careers to scoop them up before they established themselves in the NFL.

So what do these undrafted players taken in by Bill Belichick have in common over the years?

"They've come in and they've performed to a good, competitive level and show us that they can possibly get higher," he said. "That they've been competitive and that there's upside for them to continue to develop as a player and get better. How far does that take them? How high do they go? I don't know, but I'd say that would be the common thing with those players going all the way back to Patrick Pass and guys like that even from the beginning that were late round draft choices or undrafted free agents."

In all, the Patriots have eight players that were at one point rookie and first-year free agents with the Patriots: Ryan Wendell (2008), Kyle Arrington (2009), Kyle Love (2010), Sterling Moore (2011), Mike Rivera (2011), Brandon Bolden (2012), Marcus Forston (2012), and Justin Francis (2012).

Arrington has had a major role in the team's defense over the past couple seasons, and Love has really come into his own on the defensive line. Wendell is certainly a late bloomer, but a player that Belichick seems particularly proud of in terms of progress made.

"Hes been very well coached. Obviously Pat Hill and his staff at Fresno State did an excellent job with him and Logan Mankins and all the other linemen that have come out of there," Belichick said of Wendell. "When we first had Wendy, we actually released him off the practice squad and then brought him back to the practice squad so thats a guy whose level has risen dramatically from when he first started here. Hard work, hes gotten stronger, hes improved his athletic skills, his numbers, his quickness, explosion, power, strength, all those things Hes done a good job for us all the way through. Hes always been a solid, dependable player. Hes earned it; hes definitely earned it."

Earning it - perhaps a bit more than players drafted in the higher rounds is something each and every undrafted free agent must do throughout their careers.

Wes Welker was undrafted out of Texas Tech and had a subpar career before he was traded to New England from Miami in 2007. He's undoubtedly earned his place and then some in the NFL. Danny Woodhead was undrafted out of Chadron State College and has found success in the running game with the Pats. And versatile offensive lineman Nick McDonald, undrafted out of Grand Valley State University, has drawn praise from Bill Belichick in camp.

So, no, a coaching staff probably doesn't go into camp with the expectation that an undrafted free agent will bounce out a more established player, but if the right ones come in the competition will be fierce, and it's up to the coaching staff to realize it before it's really too late.

"They played well in training camp and you evaluate the player and say, 'This guy, really with a little more experience and a little more time he might be even better' -- the Matt Cassell's and the Steve Neal's of the world and all that. I think that's what they need to show to get to that next opportunity that they've got to keep getting better or they just fizzle out and somebody else will move along with kind of the same resume and nudge them out, get ahead of them."

And so the process repeats itself.

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

Blount on free agency: 'I definitely want to go back to New England'

LeGarrette Blount knows where he wants to be for 2017. Ever since he re-joined the Patriots in 2014 following a short stay in Pittsburgh, the 250-pound back has been very open about how he wants to play out the rest of his career in New England. 

Those feelings haven't changed, even as he faces free-agency after having recorded the best season of his seven-year career.

"I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind, knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England," he told NFL Total Access on Monday. "I love it there. I love the culture. I love the players. I've become close with a lot of the guys. Obviously you know how my running back group is.

"We'll cross that bridge whenever we cross it. On that point, I feel great. I'm in amazing shape. I feel like I could play 100 more years if I have to."

Blount finished 2016 with career-highs in attempts (299) yards (1,161) and touchowns (18). His ability to help the Patriots close games in the fourth quarter was notable throughout the course of the season, and he was among the most effective goal-line backs in the league. His 18 rushing scores are a franchise record.

Toward the end of the season, as Dion Lewis worked his way back into the Patriots offense, Blount had his workload cut into, and his fumble in the Super Bowl was a near-catastrophic moment -- his devastated reaction to which was caught expertly by NFL Films. But a big-picture view of Blount's year would reveal that he  posted the most prodictive "big back" season the Patriots have had in more than a decade.

Blount signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason after seeing his 2015 prematurely ended by way of a hip injury. He turned 30 in December.

Garoppolo's mom keeps him apprised of trade rumors: 'She's all over that stuff'

Garoppolo's mom keeps him apprised of trade rumors: 'She's all over that stuff'

Jimmy Garoppolo can't help but hear trade rumors that involve his name. He heard all about them during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Now his mom's keeping him up to date. 

"My mom loves telling me the news updates," Garoppolo told ESPN's Adam Schefter, "so she’s all over that stuff, but it’s been working really well . . . 

"I’m telling you, she could be your assistant. She’s all over the place. Her and my dad on Twitter and stuff like that. I don’t even think they know how to tweet, but they always have something going on . . .

"They know what to hit me with and what to keep quiet. They know me so well that they know what I’d like to hear and what I don’t need to hear. There’s a couple slip-ups here and there, I’m not going to lie to you, but they’re just so excited about it. It’s an exciting time, and they’re loving it."

Garoppolo tried his best to deflect questions about his future as he prepared for Super Bowl LI, but he could only insulate himself so much from those conversations. After six quarters of well-played football, he's chummed the waters for quarterback-starved franchises. As the draft nears, offers are expected to hit the Gillette Stadium offices, and it will be up to Bill Belichick and his staff to determine whether they should part ways with Tom Brady's backup. 

Schefter asked Garoppolo about one team in particular that could be interested: the Chicago Bears. Their general manager Ryan Pace is an Eastern Illinois alum, like Garoppolo, and Garoppolo is a Chicago-area kid. 

"I get asked about [that possibility] all the time from my friends and family back in Chicago," Garoppolo said. "They’re good reporters, my family. But I keep telling them I really don’t know how it would feel until . . . if it was to happen, I wouldn’t know how I’d feel until it did, you know? So it’s kind of one of those things, it’s hard to say right now."

Garoppolo added: "For the most part I am just trying to stay level-headed, trying not to think about it, over think it too much because at the end of the day I am still under contract. It is not my decision if I get traded or if I don’t, so I am just trying to take it all in stride. At the end of the day, you just have to enjoy it. The NFL, it is a hard place to be, hard place to succeed and when you get an opportunity you have to go and take advantage of it."

The idea of getting an opportunity, though, is an enticing one. Before the 2016 season, Garoppolo was very open about how he looked forward to his opportunity to start with Brady suspended for the first four weeks of the season. And with Schefter, he acknowledged that there are times when it's hard not to be impatient when you're the guy behind the guy.

"There’s times," Garoppolo said. "Obviously the kickoff happens and you are ready to roll. The juices get flowing again. You get the adrenaline, the butterflies. It’s football, you have to love the atmosphere . . . 

"We all play the game. We all want to be out there on the field and get an opportunity to play. I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there is probably the best way to put it. We’re competitors at the end of the day. We want to be out there, I want to be out there competing and playing with my teammates.”